Aviation News Journal
Text and photography by Patrick Dirksen and Frank Mink of
Turkey’s 3rd Main Jet Base, Konya, or 3 AJÜ, is well known for the Anatolian Eagle and Anatolian Phoenix exercises that are held there each year. The larger Eagle exercise focusses on air combat training, while Phoenix, the smaller of the two, is dedicated to personnel rescue operations.
Turkish F-16s during Anatolian Eagle
The list of participating countries illustrates the unique position Turkey has, both geographically and politically. Participants traditionally come both from Europe and Asia, and include NATO and non-NATO members, often together during the same exercise.
During both exercises, observers and high-ranking officials from other countries, such as Bulgaria, Ethiopia, Nigeria, North-Macedonia, Lithuania, Senegal, South Africa and Uzbekistan, were present. All of these might be future participants.
In 1997, the Turkish air force participated in the well-known Red Flag exercise in the USA. This inspired Anatolian Eagle, which was held for the first time in 2001. Since then, 46 (national and international) editions have been held, with sixteen different countries and NATO participating with more than 3,000 aircraft and 35,000 personnel. This year’s international edition saw Jordanian and Pakistani F-16s, NATO E-3, as well as British Typhoons which are currently based in Romania for Air Policing duties, and most noteworthy participant Azerbaijan with two Su-25s. The Azeris were the most eye-catching participants, as their Su-25 jets were the only participating aircraft which were camouflaged instead of grey. On the Turkish side there was the operational testing debut of the Baykar Akinci B armed drone, Turkey’s newest Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV). This was operated from a ground station at Konya, proving that drones are playing an increasingly important role in modern warfare. An Anka UAV also participated, although this was operated from another location. Furthermore, numerous F-16s from five different squadrons participated, each with their own specialization, as well as an E-7 and KC-135. Locally based 132 Filo provided Red Air operations with its F-16s.
Because of their well-reported role in the war in Ukraine, Turkish drones receive considerable attention. Their value has been proven and they are here to stay. Although the participating Akinci (meaning ‘Raider’) is the fifth prototype (PT-5), it is the second of the B version which is equipped with Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6 turbo engines. Only two months earlier, it visited Azerbaijan to participate in the Teknofest exhibition, having flown some 2,000 km to get there. The type has only been formally inducted in Turkish service as recently as August 2021. It can be fitted with different weapon payloads such as laser-guided smart munitions, missiles, as well as guided and unguided bombs, for air-to-air and air-to-ground tasks.
As explained by the commander of the Turkish Air Force, general Hasan Küçükakyüz, these are the main purposes of the Anatolian Eagle training:
- to meet the need of training for operations and to increase the level of combat readiness of personnel
- to examine and improve the interoperability with NATO and allied countries
- to improve the level of education in a scenario ranging from simple to as difficult as in a realistic operational environment
- to achieve new technical and tactical concepts and doctrines
- to share knowledge and experiences
To achieve this, during the two weeks of the exercise, two missions were flown per day. In general, the morning mission consisted of combined air operations (COMAO), including some anti-surface air operations missions, while the afternoon missions were non-COMAO. In total 196 sorties were flown under command and control (C2) of both the NATO E-3 and the locally based Turkish E-7T. An exercise area of some 180 by 150 miles was available directly next to Konya, including a tactical shooting range and electronic warfare sites with multiple types of SAM threats (SA-6, SA-8, SA-11, ZSU 23-4, Skyguard). Furthermore, an area of 75 by 140 miles was available over sea for nautical operations. As Küçükakyüz said, “we are very lucky to have this area available where our forces can perform their duties without being affected by other traffic in the region. Sharing this opportunity with our brothers and allies is very valuable in terms of the purpose and gains of the exercise.”
Anatolian Phoenix exercises have been held from 2008. Since 2012, there are at least one national and one international edition every year, with a total of 25 editions held so far. These exercises centre around Joint Task Force (JTF) missions. Thanks to the nearby Konya Shooting Range, live bombs and guns can be used, adding to the realistic effect.
The exercise is organised by local 135 Filo, a squadron dedicated to personnel recovery (PR) and Joint Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC) operations. The objectives are to execute ground assisted Joint Task Force missions and, while doing so, to strengthen the relationship and develop interoperability with the participants. Emphasis is on Command and Control, parachute jumping, JTAC and of course rescue in different forms, including close air support and fast roping.
All branches of the Turkish armed forces were present. The Türk Hava Kuvvelteri (THK, Turkish Air Force) was the largest participant, with an E-7T AWACS, about a dozen F-16s, two AS.532 and a CN.235, all from Konya-based units, as well as one Anka S UAV. Türk Kara Kuvvetleri (TKK, Turkish Army Aviation) provided a couple of T-129 ATAK helicopters from two different airbases, in addition to an S-70 from Ankara. The Turkish special forces command also sent an S-70 from its base at Ankara. The Jandarma was the third branch to send an S-70, which, because of its bright colours, really stood out among all the other camouflaged assets. The Türk Deniz Hava Komutanlığı (TDHK, Turkish naval aviation) did not send helicopters, but only a CSAR team, similar to all the other branches.
The JTAC team and AS.532 of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) was considered a foreign participant. Other foreign participants were Azerbaijan, which returned with two Mi-17 ‘Hip’ helicopters and two CSAR teams, and Poland which sent another CSAR and a JTAC team. A Romanian delegation, which was planning to attend with two IAR.330 SOCATS, had to cancel last minute because of the ongoing situation in Ukraine.
As with Anatolian Eagle, a large training area was available. Most prominent was the Konya shooting range (LTD-9), where 132 Filo F-16s dropped live Mk.82 unguided bombs on different targets, and T-129 ATAK helicopters used their guns for strafing terrorist positions. All this to facilitate the rescue of downed airmen by several teams flown in by helicopters. A less visible but nonetheless important role was played by the JTAC teams, which directed the aircraft and helicopters during their combat action from a forward position on the ground, often in enemy territory. During the exercise, all aspects were practised, from medical evacuation (MEDEVAC) to close air support (CAS), and from casualty evacuation (CASEVAC) to intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), combat search & rescue (CSAR) and high altitude, low opening (HALO) parachute jumping.
All crews had to be combat ready before they were allowed to take part. They were responsible for all tactical planning, briefing and execution of the missions. To achieve this, they were given maximum freedom, so information can be exchanged and lessons learned.
At Konya the motto is “train as you fight”. Both exercises definitely lived up to that motto!